Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)

This sweet and sunny film was adapted from an early Thomas Hardy novel (surprise, surprise)!  Beautiful, educated, and sweet-tempered Fancy Day (Keeley Hawes) comes from Exeter to take the job of schoolteacher in the village of Mellstock to be near her sick father, a retired gamekeeper.  Dick Dewy (James Murray), his father, and a few of their friends are amateur musicians, so they sing carols on Christmas Eve.  He falls in love w/ Fancy at first sight when she comes to the window to praise their song. (Murray bears a striking resemblance to Stephen Campbell Moore, another young British actor.)

 

Dick is tongue-tied when he sees Fancy after church, but manages to invite her to a party. 

But the humble carrier (moving man) is not Fancy’s only admirer.  She catches the eye of successful, middle-aged farmer, Mr. Shiner, and the village’s new pastor, Parson Maybold (Ben Miles).

One man offers her security; another offers adventure.  But Fancy has great chemistry w/ Dick, who strives to win her affection, unaware that her father feels he’s beneath her.

This story covers Hardy’s main themes- rural/small town life, working vs. middle class customs, courtship between those of different status, and the individual’s search for a place in the world.

“The Claim” (2000)

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They were like kings.  The pioneers- they came out here when there was nothing, built these towns, and ruled them like kings.

This 2000 film is inspired by Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge; it stars Irish actor Peter Mullan, a young Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski (who was the title character in Roman Polanski’s Tess, another Hardy story), a very young Sarah Polley (now 30, and an award-winning director), and Russian-American model/actress Milla Jovovich.  The setting is the fictional town of Kingdom Come in the Sierra Nevadas (a mountain range) of Northern California, though the film was shot in Colorado and Alberta, Canada.  It is 1869, and Mr. Dillon (Mullan) serves as mayor, peacekeeper, and is the wealthiest man in town. 

Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan)
Daniel Dillon (Peter Mullan)

The story opens with a group of newcomers arriving in small town of Kingdom Come, including several prostitutes, a crew of men from the Central Pacific Railroad led by engineer Mr. Daglish (Bentley), and two respectable and pretty ladies from back East- ailing widow Mrs. Burn (Kinski) and her daughter Hope (Polley). When a man insults Hope, Daglish defends her honor.  Hope is affected by his kindness.  The railroad men are given a warm welcome at the town’s main attraction- The Paradise Saloon, where Daglish is intrigued by Lucia (Jovovich), a tall, Portuguese beauty who sings and manages the place.  But Lucia is also involved in a long-term relationship with Dillon based on mutual needs.   

Hope Burn (Sarah Polley)
Hope Burn (Sarah Polley)

Mrs. Burn simply refers to Dillon as “a rich relative.”  But in a flashback, we learn that many years ago, Dillon (a young, drunken, and disenchanted ‘49er) sold his young wife Elena and infant daughter to another prospector.  That man gave Dillon his claim to a gold mine in return.  Now Dillon wants to “make things right” by reunting the family.  In one memorable scene, he has a team of men pull his new house closer to town (to be near his love). 

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While Dillon is absorbed with his personal life, Daglish and his men survey the valleys nearby to determine where to lay track for the railroad.  Their work is important, but also very dangerous, as we discover in another memorable scene. Hope’s feelings for the engineer become stronger as they spend more time together.  However, Daglish also feels a strong attraction to Lucia.

Daglish and Lucia dance at Dillon's wedding

Mrs Burn/Mrs Dillon (Nastassja Kinski)

Though he is a man of few words, Dillon loves Elena; he tries to improve her health by using the latest technology.  Dillon is deeply affected by things going on around him, but he hides behind his gruffness.  Hope and Lucia are portrayed well; they not stereotypical ladies we usually see in Westerns.  The cautious romance between Hope and Daglish is nice as well.  Wes Bentley’s large, cat-like, blue-gray eyes stand out against the snowy landscape.

Donald Daglish (Wes Bentley)

Unlike Hardy’s original story, there is no concern for appearances or societal conventions.  Kingdom Come is populated with people of many backgrounds, races, and levels of respectability.  They all interact with each other as needed.  The town’s growth and survival depends on the railroad coming through.  But if this occurs, Dillon will no longer be able to rule the town as he pleases.

“The Mayor of Casterbridge” (2003)

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Are some actions simply unforgivable?  Can someone truly change his/her nature?  These are the central questions posed in The Mayor of Casterbridge, a very engaging A&E miniseries from 2003.  The stars are: intense/commanding Ciaran Hinds (Persuasion; Jane Eyre), handsome/charming James Purefoy (Vanity Fair; Rome), unconventional/poised Jodhi May (The Last of the Mohicans; Daniel Deronda), and mysteriously pretty Polly Walker.  It is an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel; it follows the book very closely (as several viewers/readers noted on IMDB).  Everything is top-notch in this film: acting, pacing, costumes, and music (creating the right mood for Hardy, but is never too much).     

 If you thought the premise of Tess was a shocker, check this out!  At a country fair, jobless/angry/drunken Daniel Henchard (Hinds) sells his wife and baby daughter for a few coins.  When he sobers up, he can’t believe what he’s done.  He runs into a chapel, grabs the Bible, and swears to not drink for 21 years.     

About 19 years later, Henchard’s wife Susan (Juliet Aubrey) and her grown-up daughter, Elizabeth Jane (May) set out to find him.  Susan says she is a widow and refers to her husband as “a relation by marriage.”  She is shocked to learn how “high” he has become when they reach Casterbridge; Susan spies Henchard (wearing the mayoral robe and medal) inside his fine house.  The mayor sees the ladies also, and decides to take action to make up for the “terrible deed.”        

 

Farfrae (James Purefoy), the optimistic Scotsman the mayor confides in.
Donald Farfrae (James Purefoy)

 

On the same night that his family comes to town, Henchard meets an optimistic Scotsman, Donald Farfrae (Purefoy), who has developed a technique to restore bad grain.  The mayor persuades Farfrae to become his manager, and he also confides in the younger man.  Later on, Henchard grows terribly jealous of Farfrae- an even-tempered, fair-minded man (unlike the mayor).  Just as in Hardy’s other works (i.e. Far from the Maddening Crowd, Jude the Obscure, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles) you will find lies, mysterious letters, sudden revelations, strong females, and a lot of drama. There are secrets at every turn in this story, so check it out for yourself!    

Movie Review: Masterpiece Theater’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”

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Remember Oxford edition books from college?

 

When Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles was first published, readers debated whether or not the main protagonist, Tess Durbeyfield, was a “pure” woman.  Her purity was of great debate among friends at dinner parties (Laura Linney said before the film began on Masterpiece Theater).  Tess is a young, simple, and honest woman who endures several tragedies, but has a bit of happiness, too.  Though many evils befall her, she takes life into her own hands in the end.   

 

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Tess (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful young girl in her teens, has a simple life in the countryside of Southern England.    Her father consoles himself with drink, and is often jobless.  Tess, who is hard-working and good in school, hopes to someday become a teacher.  Her mother has a big brood to raise, and feels that Tess should swallow her pride for the sake of the family.  So, Tess goes to work for her distant relations, the D’Urbervilles, on a big estate several miles from home. 

 

Her wealthy, older, crafty cousin Alec D’Urberville (Hans Matheson) is instantly struck by her beauty and simple ways.  Tess is given the job of “poultry manager” and her own little house to live in on the estate.  Her cousin gives her a lot of attention, gifts (such as a new dress), and promises to do something for her poor family.   Tess is unprotected and in danger, the viewer quickly learns.  Alec’s mother, a blind sickly old lady close to death, can’t protect Tess from her son’s advances.  She lets him run everything, even though she knows about his dissipated ways (drinking, gambling, and running after women). 

 

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When they see the pair together in Alec’s carriage, Tess’ sister Liza Lu asks “Is that the man who will make Tess a lady?”  In Thomas Hardy’s mind, Tess is already a “lady.”   She has a lot of pride and (natural) honor- something that a man like Alec can never understand.  A girl, the former poultry manager, ran off before Tess arrived!  The other servants gossip and laugh about Tess.   The young housemaids are jealous because they no longer have their master’s attention.   

  

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Alec “takes her by force” in the woods late one night.  She is bewildered, ashamed, and has no one to talk to about her situation.  (No one told her that such things could happen!)  Tess quickly returns to her family, has a baby boy, and deals with that baby’s death (as well as the disdain of her community). 

 

She appeals to the local pastor to allow her dead son, who she named Sorrow, to be buried “on consecrated ground.”   He refuses (of course) because the baby was born out of wedlock.  Tess is angry and hurt, feeling that the church is not doing the right thing.  She decides to seek out a new job.  You wonder if she’ll ever get a break!

  

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Tess begins work as a dairy maid on a family-like farm peopled with a kind group of individuals.  She becomes friends with the other milkmaids, and catches the eye of a young gentleman, Angel Clare (Eddie Redmayne), who’s trianing to be a farmer alongside the others.  Slowly, Tess and Angel become good friends.  He is taken aback by her goodness.  Angel is a decent guy who loves working the land, though he is the son of a parson (and thus middle-class).  He doesn’t care for money or status, but highly values honesty. 

 

All the girls on the farm are in love with Angel, but he (noticeably) prefers Tess.  She is afraid to let herself be happy, but eventually admits that she’s deeply in love.  However, she feels she is “ruined” and “will never marry” someone so good like Angel.  What will happen next? 

 

Gemma Aterton does a terrific job showing the many sides to a “simple” girl; she is not only a victim, she has a lot of toughness.   How else would Tess have survived her life?  Hans Matheson, dark and a bit dangerous in appearance, makes Alec a complex, interesting villain.  He’s not always easy to figure out.  Eddie Redmayne goes through a wide range of emotions, and truly fits into his role of idealistic young man.  When Angel becomes disappointed in life, he does an even better job.   

 

This is a very effective film because it has these elements: a  very committed cast of characters (who are not well-known), fitting music and lighting (to set a mood Hardy could approve of), and appropriate costumes, scenery, and sets.   The film elaborates on the themes: innocence, honesty, shame, questioning of established religion, unconditional love, betrayal, and (eventual) forgiveness.  It’s true to Hardy- it’s dark, moody, and (sometimes) unexpected.  You will be quickly drawn into this film!  

 

 

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Gemma Aterton is one of the newest Bond girls, believe it or not!  She can be seen in Quantum of Solace (opposite Daniel Craig).  

 

 

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Hans Matheson can be seen in The Mists of Avalon (where he plays another villain) and the BBC version of Dr. Zhivago (opposite Keira Knightly). 

 

 

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Eddie Redmayne, an actor fans of Brit films  may be familiar with, has been in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (with Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen), Elizabeth I (with Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, and Hugh Dancy), and  The Other Boleyn Girl (with Scarlett Johanssen, Natalie Portman, an Eric Bana).  Not bad for a guy who’s just 26!  

 

Links you may like: 

 

A photo of Thomas Hardy’s house, Max Gate:

http://www.victorianweb.org/photos/hardy/11.jpg

 

More about this film:

www.bbc.co.uk/tess

 

More about actress Gemma Aterton:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2605345/

 

A web site dedicated to actor Hans Matheson:

http://www.hansmatheson.org/

 

A web site dedicated to actor Eddie Redmayne:

http://eddie-redmayne.net/

 

1998 UK version (starring Justine Waddell)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0126100/

 

The famed 1979 version- Tess (starring Nastassja Kinski); directed by Roman Polanski

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080009/